Ashland respite care program faces closure

An Ashland respite care program for people suffering from Alzheimer's, dementia and other conditions is in danger of closing before the end of January unless it receives an influx of funding or participants.

The Arc's Lifespan Respite has offered a break for caregivers each Wednesday from noon to 4 p.m. for the last two years, but fluctuating participation has compromised the program, according to caregiver and site coordinator Ardis Fraser.

"We're running out of grant money, and we're on a very fine line," Fraser said.

Fraser said a grant secured from Medford's The Arc two years ago got the program up and running, but a low number of participants means the weekly respite isn't sustaining itself financially.

The program has cost about $8,000 a year to run, Fraser said.

"We've helped hundreds of people, but many have passed away," said Fraser. "We just need to have more participants to keep the program going."

Fraser said five or six people attend the weekly respite now, but she was forced to give them notice this week that the program's last session could be Jan. 29. Fraser spoke Friday with leaders at The Arc, who have agreed to watch the program on a week-to-week basis and see whether participation climbs. If not, it likely will end.

"It's a really great program, and it's much needed," she said.

Ashland resident Kathleen Dunn said she took her father to the respite care group for more than six months before he passed away last May.

"It worked out great, and he loved it," said Dunn, who also took her father to The Arc's respite program in Medford, which runs Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

"It's a labor of love what they're doing, it's not a labor of profit," said Dunn. "They really know what they are doing. They are really dear people and they really care for their patients and their patients' families."

As one of her father's primary caregivers as he faced Alzheimer's, Dunn couldn't afford a private caregiver, and even if she could, it wouldn't have offered the socialization he received at Lifespan Respite.

There, participants engage in piano, tai chi, cards, bingo, trivia and dancing, to name a few, Fraser said. Participation in the respite program costs $6.50 an hour.

Dunn said having four hours to herself was an immeasurable relief from caring for her father.

"I think without it I would have gone crazy. No one knows what it's like to be the primary caregiver of an Alzheimer's patient," said Dunn.

Without the program, Dunn said, the community will suffer a great loss.

"There are very few resources for people who are low income," said Dunn. "It would be a huge loss to our community."

A separate Medford program also organized by The Arc runs two days each week, and is overflowing with participants, according to Barbara Beers, The Arc's Lifespan Respite coordinator.

"It's bursting at its seams and growing out of the room," said Beers.

Beers said she wasn't sure whether winter and flu season have contributed to the low participation in Ashland, but she hopes more people will start attending the program there.

"I think it's really tragic. The people who do come love it," said Beers. "It's really sad. I know caregivers need a break."

Beers said she and Trish Welch, The Arc's executive director, are working hard to find more money to fund the program quickly.

"We're scrambling," she said.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at

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